Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Yes, cops have trust issues

(H/T to http://www.softgreenglow.com/wp/ )

Properly understood, there is nothing particularly anti-cop about this, it's just reality. When the blues arrive at the scene they are coming upon a situation they do not yet fully understand and they are trying to make sure they live long enough to figure it out. So if a cop treats you like a suspect or a criminal although you are the good guy, please remember that it is nothing personal. It's simply business.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Invasion USA -- 1952 B movie

If you were wondering where Occupy Wall Street got its rhetoric, here you are: The clip starts at 1:06:10. But watch the whole movie. As well as promoting a strong national defense and opposing military cuts, it is in several ways a fifties nostalgia gem.

A glaring glitch in the film is that the foreign invaders are flying US aircraft. It was common to use military stock footage in movies back in the fifties, whether it actually fit into your movie or not. A little later in the film the careful observer will see the US forces flying US planes too. Okay, maybe to the average moviegoer a plane is a plane. A ship is a ship, a gun...

A Russian PPSh-41 prop gun appears at about 36:45, but the Roosky's sidekick has a good old American M-1 Carbine, stock movie gun wherever a gun was required in the fifties. Cheap war surplus... those were the days.

The ubiquitous William Schallert has a brief role. He was the obnoxious bureaucrat in Star Trek TOS's "The Trouble With Tribbles," and has been in some role large or small in every TV show or movie ever made. I think it's a union rule or something.

A sad moment in the film: Senators get shot.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Smallsword simplified

"Fencing made easy" is an impossibility, but in earlier times there were some attempts made to at least simplify it a bit.

The smallsword developed as a shorter, lighter rapier, very fast to maneuver. In its ultimate development it lost its cutting edges, the blade being formed as a hollow-ground spike of triangular cross section, very light, and very stiff for its weight. Thus all other qualities were sacrificed for speed, and attacks were perforce made with the point.

This is the weapon that gave us the intricate maneuvers of foil and épée fencing. As anyone knows who has tried it, such fencing involves a complex apparatus of defensive techniques--parries and deceptive moves and attempts to push the other fellow's blade around. Use of the smallsword is, though, simple in one respect. All attacks work alike. You extend your arm, pointing your blade to the target, and then you lunge. The reason for the many and complicated defenses is that it is very easy for both swordsmen to be impaled when they use that style of attack. If you stab your opponent, but run yourself upon his sword while you do it, it cannot sensibly be regarded as a tie.

So simplicity in one area bred complexity in another. You can learn to attack in five minutes of instruction, and perfect the action in a week, but getting the defensive aspect down properly can take years, for defense is a bit of an arcane art. As a result, incidents in which both combatants were run through were frequent, in the days when gentlemen wore smallswords and settled their quarrels with them.

Attempts to simplify the defensive part led to some eccentric fencing methods that tried to offer adequate defenses while being easier to understand and use than the arcana of the fencing schools. I find these alternative fencing methods fascinating. The idea behind them is not to be a picture perfect fencer, but to defend well enough survive a deadly attack on the street, or a duel.

The best of these simplified methods, in my opinion, are two by Sir William Hope and another developed by Baron César de Bazancourt. There are some others, but the ones I suggest were composed by men who thoroughly acquainted themselves with the school methods first, and then looked to simplify them. Some of the other reinterpretations of fencing were the work of blowhards or dandies. The methods of Hope and Bazancourt are available free online. If this aspect of the smallsword's use interests you, you will find plenty to enjoy at these links:

Hope's first attempt, published in 1692: https://sirwilliamhope.org/Library/Hope/VadeMecum/

Hope's controversial second attempt, 1707: https://sirwilliamhope.org/Library/Hope/NewMethod/

Bazancourt, 1862: https://archive.org/details/secretsofsword00baza  (in English)

Bazancourt in the original Klingon: https://archive.org/details/lessecretsdelpe01bazagoog

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pick just two guns: one short, one long

There are some people who will get hives from even considering the question, so they are excused from the following exercise. Select one handgun and one long gun for self defense, with the idea that these will be what you rely on permanently, come what may, till death do you part.

It will be interesting to find out what other people say. For me the choices are a .38 snub and a 12 gauge riot gun. The snubnose revolver is small, easy to conceal and vastly reliable in any good brand. Because you can carry it discreetly there is little reason not to have it with you, provided you have honored the legalities.

The ballistically correct and tactically grim crowd will roll their eyes and say, "Ken, that's not much of a gun! You need at least a..." I have thought about this and experimented over the course of many years. I conclude that people who say you can conceal a full sized fighting pistol in everyday life don't get out much. In some settings, in some modes of attire, it's just not practical.

Fortunately, we can find records of many incidents where the little .38 proved to be enough gun, for it was for many years the usual concealment piece for cops and is still popular in the un-badged armed citizen sector. It is not what you would choose to hold off zombie vampire hordes at Fort Mudge, but in the real world it will often work to break up an attack and allow you to extricate yourself from the situation. So long as you are alive for your arraignment, your self defense gun has done its job.

The .38 snub has some bad characteristics. It does not hold much ammo and it is difficult to shoot straight. The difficulty of shooting it owes to its small grip, long heavy trigger and the sights' short radius. Range practice, with close attention to shooting fundamentals, gets you past the difficulties, with the bonus that once you get the snub shooting where you want it, all other pistols are easier to hit with than they were before.

The riot gun needs less argument to defend it. It has a higher hit probability than any other personal weapon, twice that of a select fire rifle and nearly half again that of a submachine gun. It has a long history of stopping fights suddenly and its presence in your hands may dishearten opponents even if you don't shoot anyone.

The pump shotgun's only notable failure mode is the short cycle jam. Since it is an operator induced stoppage the operator can prevent it. SLAM the action open, all the way open. SLAM it closed. You will not break it, but if you operate the gun gently the shell feeding process may foul up, leaving you displeased--at the least.

There is one other operator problem, rare, but not unheard of. You must avoid loading a shell into the magazine backwards. Confirm, by touch or sight, that the shell has its base to the rear before you push it into the magazine tube.

Both of my guns are short range weapons. That does not worry me because nearly all justifiable self defense shootings are short range affairs, so I'm armed for anything likely to happen.

Reasonable alternatives

I would not argue at all with someone who prefers one or other of the small semi-auto pocket pistols in .380 or 9mm Luger, for these guns fill the same niche as the .38 snub. There are reliability issues with some of these pistols but I am told that the manufacturers are working those out. If you have such a gun and it's reliable, well then, good for you. It likely holds more shots than my .38, is quicker to reload and its trigger is better.

Notice, though, that these pocket autos are designed to fill the same niche as the .38 snub and some advertisements explicitly compare these guns to the J-frame revolver. The purpose of all these small sized, medium-bore guns is to keep out of sight, but to strike a reasonably powerful blow if need be, a role the .38 snub has filled successfully for many years. We have identified the job that needs doing; the debate is only about how best to do it.

Nor would I be critical if someone prefers a semi-auto version of the riot gun. For many years, few of the self-loading shotguns available were really reliable, which led to people steering clear of self-loaders for defensive use. A jam now and then does not matter if you are shooting at birds, but a gun that hangs up even once in a thousand times gives one an uneasy feeling if its job is defending you. Nowadays, though, there are several fine choices if what you want is a semi-auto fighting shotgun. The great advantage is that such a gun removes a step from the firing cycle, since you don't work the action manually. Your task framework is thus simplified to lining up your shots, firing, and stuffing more shells into the gun.

20 gauge shotguns, pump and semi-auto, are popular self defense choices with shooters who are of small build, or recoil sensitive for one reason or other. Again, no argument from me, though I think many of these people would be about as well served by a 12 gauge gun with reduced recoil buckshot loads.

What are your own picks?

To reiterate, the question is what would you choose if limited to one handgun and one long gun for self defense. I'm sure not everyone sees it my way, and some people, doubtless, have different circumstances that shape their choices. I totally get it. I would choose a larger handgun if I did not have to think about careful concealment, and if I lived on a big spread in Montana with open country stretching away for miles, the shotgun, with its built-in range limitations, would not seem like such a great choice.

I intend this as an open-ended question, symposium style, with no wrong answers, but please give your reasons.

Monday, September 8, 2014

When is a scout rifle not a scout?

Ruger has announced that they now offer their Gunsite Scout Rifle in 5.56/.223. This contravenes the scout rifle's very definition, which calls for a full powered cartridge, but it will prove a fine rifle none the less--nearly recoilless, cheap to feed, handy and accurate.

When Steyr introduced a scout rifle in the same caliber, Col. Cooper dubbed it the "poodle scout," and spoke rather scornfully of the idea of a light caliber scout rifle. I see his point of view; such a weapon is useful for fewer things than one chambered for his recommendation, .308. He wanted the scout rifle to be useful for as many things as possible. But we need not be persuaded by his reasoning. A scout in .223 goes against the scout rifle concept, but it is not inherently a bad idea. It would be a great gun for pest control, small deer as found some places in Europe, and likely some other things as well.

Of course Cooper was right about the versatility factor. There are varmint loads for the .308 but no moose loads for the .223. So if you really are looking for all the versatility you can get, which was the original idea behind scout rifles, .308 is a far better answer.

For some uses, though, the .308 is overkill, and if that describes your uses, fine. I see no reason to be doctrinaire at this late date, so many years after the scout rifle concept was thought up. Of course when the scout idea was initially promoted, it was important to clarify by repetition that the concept was a broadly useful rifle, light, small and full powered. But everyone understands the concept by now, and not everybody is persuaded. Some people may like the form and function of a scout but do not need the .308.

Self driving Cadillac to go on sale in 2017

Details here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-07/gm-to-introduce-hands-free-driving-in-cadillac-model.html

It'll no doubt be expensive. I've experienced the far more basic GM traffic sensing technology that is available now, in a rented 2014 Impala, and I'm led to believe the upcoming system will work, but not in all conditions, just as the above-linked article states. The sensors do a great job of detecting vehicles in front and to the sides, of figuring out where your lane is, and warning of conflicts. The only false positives I experienced were warning beeps and flashes on a twisty mountain road, where for an instant it can seem that cars are heading for each other when in fact they are simply negotiating a bend while going in opposite directions.

Linking the sensors to the steering wheel and pedals is a dramatic move and will be marketed with all possible hype, but it really isn't a big step technically. The computer already knows where you are, where your intended track lies and where the other cars are. I am sure I will never give up watching the traffic, if and when self driving cars fall into my price bracket, and it will take me at least 50,000 miles to stop hovering my hands near the wheel and lifting my braking foot into the air, but it's all very interesting.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Reflecting on ammo shortages

Optimistic voices are arising around the web to say the ammo drought seems to be easing. That's nice, if so, but the shortages of recent years have underscored a couple of points for those paying attention.

1. Keep an ammo reserve that you will not dip into for practice purposes unless and until you can get more cartridges to replace the ones you shoot. How many cartridges to keep on hand and what kind are up to you, but a gun without ammo is useless and your ammo stockpile should reflect that. There is a lot of variability in ideas about how much is enough. The proverbial one box every few seasons deer hunter is good to go if he has a few spare boxes. I refer to the chap who fires a few shots at the start of the season to be sure he is still sighted in, uses another shot or two to get his deer and is then done with shooting for the year. In contrast, a 'prepper' prone to entertain lurid future scenarios will want much more. I fall somewhere between the two in my own thinking.

2. Dry firing is excellent practice, except that it is a bit boring. What we old timers did during the ammo shortages was up our proportion of dry fire to live ammo practice while shopping around for 'deals' on ammo that did not make our blood boil much. Seriously: You can practice all the most important marksmanship skills without firing a shot. You need to shoot enough live ammo to confirm that you're doing it right, but no more than that.

I would suppose that recent shortages have encouraged a number of people, including the many new shooters among us, to think about notions like these, and thus set aside some ammo for a rainy day and learn how to get the most out of practicing with inert snap caps instead of live cartridges. That's all to the good, for they are important lessons, but I hope things at the ammo counter get back to normal soon. At the same time I wonder if they ever will.

The most recent round of shortages brought something I had never seen before: .22 LR all but disappeared from the stores for a while, where it used to be common and cheap. My habit for years before was to buy a 'brick' (10 boxes of 50) whenever I saw a marked down price. Stores would offer the stuff as a loss leader and I saw little reason not to take them up on it. I then put my purchase on a shelf at home along with the other bricks of .22. I figured I was saving money and I usually had plenty of .22 LR in reserve. I don't know if we will ever see days like that again.